Women can scout Pinehurst like no U.S. Open before

By Randall MellJune 8, 2014, 1:00 pm

When Jessica Korda won the Airbus LPGA Classic two weeks ago, she thanked Paul Azinger for lessons in the finer points of the short game.

The winner of the U.S. Women’s Open in two week’s time just might be thanking the men as a whole for showing the way at Pinehurst No. 2.

With the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open about to be played in back-to-back weeks on the same venue, a historic first in major championship play, the women have a chance to scout the event in ways they never have before.

With the men playing the U.S. Open first, the women and their caddies will be taking notes.

“I’ll be watching every second it’s on TV,” said Morgan Pressel, winner of the 2007 Kraft Nabisco Championship. “You’re given an early look, to see how the golf course plays. I’m sure the pins will be relatively similar, so we’ll get a good look at how shots react coming into greens. I think it will be very helpful.”

Count Michelle Wie and Inbee Park among the women who will be riveted to their television sets during the U.S. Open.

“I don’t typically watch a whole lot of golf, but I definitely will be watching a lot,” Wie said. “It’s going to be interesting, because we’ve never done this before. I’m not sure exactly what to look for, but I think the things I will be watching for are what happens with approach shots, how shots roll off greens. I think I’ll be looking to see where players are struggling from, where you don’t want to go, where you do want to go.”

Park won the U.S. Women’s Open a year ago and is eager to defend her title. She will be paying particularly close attention to what short-game choices the men make when they miss those turtle-back greens.

“I think we will be able to get a good idea of what shots to play,” Park said. “I think it’s going to be a big help seeing how they play. I’ll pay the most attention to how they chip to these greens, and to the different shots they hit around the greens.”

Park is the best putter in women’s golf, and she’s curious how much she’ll be able to use her putter from off those greens.

“I like to use my putter as many times as I can,” she said. “I think it’s the safest club in the bag around the greens. I want to putt wherever I can.”

There’s more to this than the women playing the same course. The USGA is determined to try to set up Pinehurst No. 2 so the men and women will be playing it in relatively the same conditions.

“I suppose that if I was a female playing in the U.S. Women's Open, I would be watching very, very closely that first week,” USGA executive director Mike Davis said. “Because they're going to get an idea of where a hole location is going to be, and how setup is going to be. That gets to some of the intent of having this back to back.”

The U.S. Open will be set up as a par 70 with a scorecard yardage of 7,562 yards. The women will also play it as a par 70 but from 6,649 yards.

“To the extent possible, we want these two weeks to play exactly the same, given the slightly differing ability of the men versus the women,” Davis said. “So you're going see the setup of the greens with the same speed in week one as week two. They're going to be roughly 11½ to 12 on the Stimpmeter. You're going to see us use roughly the same hole locations. You can't use the exact hole locations, for obvious reasons.”

While the aim is to set up the same green speeds, the USGA will be looking to soften the greens slightly for the women. That’s one of the reasons the women are following the men, Davis said. It’s easier to soften greens in a week’s time for the women than it would be to firm them up in a week’s time for the men, he said.

Why soften the greens for the women?

“The idea there is that if the men are hitting a wedge in, and it's kind of a bounce, stop, that’s what we’ll want for the women,” Davis said. “If the women are hitting a 6‑iron in and it's a bounce, bounce, stop. That's what we want for the men.”

Of course, so much depends on weather.

“This all sounds wonderful on paper,” Davis said. “I can assure you we have spent a lot of time thinking about this. Will we get it perfect? I can guarantee we will not get this thing perfect. I can promise you. But the idea is we're going to try to have them play the same golf course.”

The women have their concerns, and they’ve made them public. Though the USGA is trying to set it up so the men and women have different common landing areas, there will be issues with divots, especially on par 5s, where the men and women tend to lay up in the same areas.

There may be issues with  the edges of the course getting beat up with the U.S. Open getting so much more foot traffic than the women will get.

Still, there’s a unique opportunity to these back-to-back tests that LPGA commissioner Mike Whan is embracing.

“Is there the potential more people will care about the U.S. Women’s Open than ever before? Absolutely,” Whan said. “Will some of that be related to who hit out of what divot? Yeah, probably. Will that be frustrating for players, yes? But when you ask me as commissioner, this is a huge upside opportunity.”

For so many of the game’s best women, there’s keen interest in the men’s game, in what they can learn from watching the best men.

Korda sought out Azinger, the 12-time PGA Tour winner and ESPN analyst, for help earlier this year. She used lessons learned to help her win the Airbus LPGA Classic last month, her second title this season.

“I was struggling a lot with my short game, in general,” Korda said. “I wanted to be a bit more creative, and who’s better to go to than Paul Azinger? He helped me a lot around the greens and on the greens as well.”

That short game work should come in handy at Pinehurst No. 2, where it’s so difficult to hit greens.

“When I first started to work with Jessica, she was putting from 30 feet, 40 feet off the green, if she could,” Azinger said. “She really couldn't pitch the ball in the air. Her bunker game wasn't sharp at all. I just worked with her on what I felt were age‑old fundamentals, just technique on how to pitch the ball in the air, and how to use the bounce, and get rid of that leading edge. The leading edge is fatal when you're trying to get the ball in the air, and I got her to understand that. She's a mega-talent, as gifted an athlete as there is on that tour.”

Wie can relate to lessons learned from the men. She plays out of the Bear’s Club in Jupiter, Fla., where she often practices with the men. She has learned a lot practicing there with Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Camilo Villegas.

“I work on the short game a lot with them,” Wie said. “We have flop-shot contests, who can hit it the closest, and we’ll see who can pull off the most ridiculous shots. I think it’s the mental part, though, the way they play, that has benefitted me the most. I don’t want to say they play carefree, but they’ll take risks, and if they don’t work out, it’s not the end of the world. I feel like I’ve learned a lot from that.”

The education promises to continue at Pinehurst No. 2.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in four months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014. 

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."